A few years ago I was discussing soup with my friend, the excellent food writer and cook Lucas Hollweg. I frequently find myself thinking about that conversation – especially now that every PR is banging on about ‘bone broth’ (ie good old stock).
It also seems particularly relevant when talking about teaching people to cook or cooking on a budget. Soup is one of those meals that is underrated and far too quickly dismissed as something watery and bland that comes in a tin or plastic tub or as an overpriced ‘hot option’ in any number of slightly depressing lunchtime chains.
Buying soup more often than not does it a disservice. Soup is one of those wonderful dishes that benefits not from expensive ingredients but from imagination and some inventive use of leftovers. The time-poor can use pressure cookers or five-minute soups (including pea and pesto soup which cooks in the time it takes to reheat frozen petites pois).
And if you have it over a few days, you can embellish each day on the original pot and really develop the flavours. On Monday you can have a delicious chicken broth – perhaps with a simple dumpling or two; the next day you add some left over veg and pearl barley and you have a hearty country soup. The options are only limited by your imagination.
Soup is one of those things that everyone should be able to make. It can be the cheapest meal of all and in addition is one of the most comforting. Red lentil soup – made simply from onions, lentils, cumin (if you fancy it) and stock – can feed you for a week of lunches for little more than £1. Rich, delicious and healthy soup for 20p a day. Still want to pay £3.50 a pop at Pret?
However bare the fridge and larder may seem, you can nearly always pull a soup together: a floppy carrot here, a slightly sad onion there and a handful of lentils or beans makes you quite a lovely dish. With a few more exciting fridge tidbits, you’re looking at something delicious. Find some cream, mushrooms and truffle and you’re looking at a veritable treat.
Once you can make a simple soup the variations open to you increase exponentially. You can then get a little more adventurous and use the bones from your Sunday roast to make a stock, creating an extra meal from something you might otherwise simply throw away.
So why, in a time when everyone is talking about the cost of eating and not having the time to cook, are we not making more of soup? We should be promoting this cheap and easy – and let’s not forget nutritious – meal and telling everyone from children to pensioners how to whip a bowl up. It really isn’t hard.
When the weather is this bleak and miserable there is little that is more restorative than a nice bowl of soup and nothing much more warming than spending a few minutes at the stove cooking it up.